Nuremberg Trial Timeline
On April 13, 1945, the day after President Franklin Roosevelt’s sudden death, Justice Robert H. Jackson delivered a speech before the American Society of International Law entitled “The Rule of Law Among Nations,” advocating Roosevelt’s position that trials, instead of summary executions, should be the fate of Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Hitler. It was this speech that flagged Jackson to President Truman as a viable choice for making Roosevelt’s dream a reality.
By the end of the month, Truman had approached Jackson through Judge Samuel Rosenman to head up the effort to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Jackson sent Truman a memo on April 29 indicating his willingness to lead the project, provided that Jackson’s opinions and approach met with the President’s approval.
Truman was satisfied by the memo that Jackson was the right person for the job, so on May 2, the President issued Executive Order 9547, appointing Robert H. Jackson chief prosecutor for the United States in the proposed trials of Nazi war criminals.
During the month of May, Jackson handpicked his staff, including General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services on May 16.
On May 25, Jackson traveled to Europe for an initial survey of the situation in Germany. Visiting London, Berlin, and Paris, Jackson held a series of meetings with representatives from England, France and Russia, before returning to Washington in early June to make his preliminary report to the President.
Jackson delivered his report to Truman on June 6, which detailed the preparations Jackson had made during the past month. This report outlined the basic features of the plan of prosecution, emphasizing the U.S. position that anti-war treaties like the Kellogg-Briand Pact must be recognized as having juridical as well as political meaning. In other words, Jackson demanded that the trials criminalize aggressive war.
On June 18, Jackson returned to London with his small staff to begin the task of negotiating the terms of an international trial with the other Allied powers. The London Conference began on June 26, where representatives from the United States, Great Britain, France and Russia met to begin work on establishing an international tribunal.
On July 7, 1945, Justice Jackson, accompanied by members of his staff traveled across Germany, visiting several cities, including Wiesbaden, Frankfurt am Main, Salzburg, and Nuremberg. This was Jackson's first glimpse of the war torn site of the War Crimes trials, including the bombed out Palace of Justice. Despite its dilapidated appearance, Jackson was pleased with its potential as a venue for a large trial. Before returning again to the London Conference to hammer out the specifics of the trial procedure, Jackson met with military officials in Paris to discuss the progress of continental organization for the impending trials.
Justice Jackson was hard at work negotiating with representatives from the four Allied nations present at London. At the meeting of the London Conference on July 13, Jackson expressed his desire to quickly conclude the negotiations of the trial so that he could begin his task as prosecutor. He also expected at this time that the trials would conclude certainly by the end of the year, and perhaps even in time for him to rejoin the Supreme Court in October. On July 17, a tentative draft of the indictments against the Nazis as well as the order of questioning was first proposed. At this meeting, General Nikitchenko, the Russian delegate, and Justice Jackson discussed the particularities of the Russian and Anglo-American legal systems. Jackson extended an invitation on July 18 to the three other delegations to visit Nuremberg with him. All three delegations promptly accepted. July 19 found Jackson responding to the concerns of the other delegates regarding the absence of international law precedent on which to base the trial. Jackson pointed to the Kellogg-Briand pact and other nonaggression treaties as precedents. July 20 found the delegates, including Justice Jackson, as guests of the Soviet Union at the Hotel Savoy in London, where the Russian delegation informed Jackson that they would not be able to visit Nuremberg as expected.
Although the Russian delegation would not be joining them, the British, French and American delegations traveled from London to Nuremberg with Justice Jackson on July 21. While in Nuremberg, the delegations inspected the Palace of Justice and the prison, as well as hotels and other facilities of the city. After returning to London on July 23, the conference met again. The discussion at the July 23 meeting turned to the issue of ex post facto legislation. The French delegate asked if the Nazis were not being charged for crimes that did not exist in the legal sense before they were committed, to which Jackson responded that the conference was merely codifying laws that already existed through treaties. When the Nazis broke peace treaties and non-aggression pacts, they were committing international crime. In a nod to Churchill’s recently published History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which described the growth of the common law, Jackson compared the crime of aggressive war to the common-law crime of murder: both punishable before a paper statute was written. On July 24 and 25 the delegates discussed questions of reprisals and possible defenses of the Nazis. Jackson and members of his staff attended the Potsdam Conference on July 26 in Potsdam, Germany, where Jackson spoke with former Supreme Court Justice Byrnes, who was at Potsdam representing the U.S., concerning the progress of the London Conference. Byrnes reassured Jackson of the importance that the London Agreement reflect American concepts of a fair trial. According to Byrnes, failure at London would compromise his work at Potsdam. July 27 found Jackson back in London with renewed conviction to expedite the signing of the London Agreement.
After returning to London from his trip to the Potsdam Conference, Justice Jackson proceeded zealously to bring the preliminaries of the impending trial to a close. On July 29, the Washington Star reported that Jackson was “demanding accord on war trials this week.” The New York Times reported on July 30 that Jackson would withdraw from the conference “Unless the four-power committee…completes its work this week.” Jackson’s “ultimatum” on July 30 accelerated the signing process.
With crucial help from the newly-appointed British delegate, Lord Chancellor William Jowitt, who came to power on August 1, Jackson succeeded in settling the differences among the four delegations and reached a final agreement. On August 8, 1945, the representatives from each of the four powers (Jackson for the U.S., Robert Falco for France, Chancellor Jowitt for Great Britain, and General Nikitchenko and Professor Trainin for the Soviet Union) signed the Agreement and Charter for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis; the London Agreement.
With the London Agreement completed, it was time for a brief celebration among the Powers. The elation of the United States was further increased by the end of the Pacific war with the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, and one on Nagasaki on August 9, poignant bookends for the London Agreement’s signing on August 8. Work for Jackson and the other chief prosecutors began again in earnest on August 13 when they began to plan the organization of the prosecution.
The next day, August 14, the prosecutors had come to an agreement regarding the structure of the prosecution. The British would focus on the aggressive war and treaty violations, the Russians and French would prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred on their respective fronts, and Jackson and the Americans would focus on Nazi organizations and conspiracy to wage aggressive war.
Jackson returned to Nuremberg on August 17, this time with representatives of each of the four powers. By this time, nearly all the Nazis who would be tried were housed in the prison attached to the Palace of Justice. Along with his son Bill, Jackson inspected the prison facilities and the Nazi criminals held within.
By August 23, Jackson was back in London, facing the mountain of documentary evidence against the Nazis that had been collected, which included 250 tons of documents and 3,000 frames of microfilm. At this point, the trial realistically seemed to Jackson a long ways off, at least not until the end of October. The task of prosecuting the top Nazi war criminals had turned into a much grander project than Jackson ever imagined.
During the last days of August, both Jackson’s staff and his list of defendants ballooned. Fourteen more defendants were added to the ten already named in the indictment. Many of these additional defendants were included as a result of Jackson’s initiative. They represented a broad cross-section of the Nazi leadership, including not only military leaders, but also political and economic leaders. Jackson’s staff had grown to include nearly thirty officers of field grade, including seven full colonels.
At the same time that Jackson was building his staff and his defendant list, American architects and Army personnel were working on the reconstruction and redesign of portions of the Palace of Justice. It was a massive project that required 500 bags of cement, 250,000 bricks, 100,000 board feet of lumber, hundreds of fluorescent lights brought from the U.S. and thousands of window panes imported from Belgium.
Also during the last week of August, Jackson arranged an audience with the Pope at the Vatican in order to secure evidence of religious persecution of Catholics by the Nazis. Jackson’s audience was set for noon on Tuesday of the last week in August. In the meantime, Jackson met with General Richmond at Capri to discuss problems facing the American staff. After his conference with Richmond, Jackson flew directly to Rome. Despite cynics who expected little from the Pope, Jackson’s confidence proved well founded when the Pope provided Jackson with a detailed memorandum regarding persecutions of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany and Poland. The Pope also provided Jackson with copies of incriminating correspondence between the defendant Von Ribbentrop and the Vatican, as well as instructed the Vatican’s secretary of state to be at Jackson’s disposal.
With the remaining task of choosing an American judge and alternate for the trial, Jackson returned to Washington on Labor Day to discuss the matter with President Truman. A week later Jackson returned to England, but only to move his office and staff to Nuremberg. It was time for the final preparations for the trial of the century.
At his meeting with President Truman on September 5, 1945, Jackson learned that Francis Biddle was Truman’s pick for the American judge on the Tribunal. This was disappointing news for Jackson, who had hoped for someone of more experience and notoriety as a judge. However, Truman accepted Jackson’s suggestion of John J. Parker as the alternate judge. Both Biddle and Parker accepted the appointments.
With the selection of the judges complete, Jackson returned briefly to London on September 12. The following day, September 13, Jackson met with the chief prosecutors’. Hartley Shawcross strongly advocated that the delegations remain in London until the Indictment was complete, but Jackson insisted that he must go to Nuremberg immediately to examine all of the incoming evidence and to work on his portion of the Indictment, the conspiracy counts. Jackson left immediately for Nuremberg, leaving behind his staff and the other delegations, who would join him later in the month.
When Jackson arrived back in Nuremberg in mid-September, the city was still in shambles. Homes and businesses were tombs where unfortunate residents of the bombed-out city, perhaps as many as 30,000, were buried under the rubble. The Palace of Justice bore the marks of an allied bomb that dropped straight through it.
Despite the destruction of the city and the apparent acquiescence of its citizens to the Allied occupation, Nuremberg was still a very dangerous place. Jeeps had to be equipped with vertical iron bars in front so as to cut through wires strung from trees, which were designed by Germans to decapitate American drivers. The occupying force had to be constantly vigilant, as there was still a fear of German snipers, especially at night.
The security for Justice Jackson was particularly tight for fear of attempts on his life. He had a personal bodyguard, Moritz Fuchs, who would arrange a different route to the Palace of Justice every day for Jackson in order to deter any attempts at an ambush. Fuchs accompanied Jackson everywhere he went, and there was a full complement of guards constantly surrounding Jackson’s house.
As the month of September dragged on, the Chief Prosecutors came closer to completing the Indictment, Jackson writing the conspiracy count in Nuremberg while the other prosecutors worked on their respective counts in London. During these final stages of the drafting of the Indictment, the Allied nations publicly announced their appointments to the Tribunal.
As Jackson had discovered at the beginning of September, President Truman had selected Francis Biddle, former Attorney General, as the American representative, with Judge John J. Parker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit as the alternate. The British selected Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence from the Court of Appeals to be their representative, with Sir Norman Birkett of the Court of the King’s Bench as the alternate. Major General I. T. Nikitchenko, Vice Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, received the appointment as the Russian representative, with Lt. Colonel A. F. Volchkov, a Soviet District Court judge, as the alternate. Finally, France appointed Professor Donnedieu de Vabres, from the School of Law in Paris, as their representative, with Judge Robert Falco, of the Cour de Cassation as the alternate.
Both Nikitchenko of the Soviet Union, and Falco of France had participated in the negotiations of the London Agreement, so their appointments to the Tribunal caused some controversy. But the players had nearly all been set; the prosecutors, the defendants, and now the judges. The trial would begin soon.
On October 7, Francis Biddle and John J. Parker arrived on the Queen Mary at Southampton, England, and then left immediately for Berlin. With the arrival of the Americans to Berlin, all of the tribunal judges assembled there. Their first task was to choose a presiding judge. After some deliberation, the judges agreed that General Nikitchenko would preside over the Indictment serving phase, and that Sir Geoffrey Lawrence would be the permanent presiding judge at the first trial. At the first meeting of the International Military Tribunal, Lawrence, announced on October 9 that the tribunal met the standards of the London Charter and that it was prepared for presentation of the indictment against the Nazis.
At this initial meeting, the problem of four language translation presented itself. Every utterance would need to be read in English, French, Russian and eventually German. Out of this problem arose International Business Machines Corporation’s solution, which consisted of headphones and portable selector dials for all participants in the courtroom to choose which language to listen to. Thanks to highly skilled interpreters, the machines worked brilliantly.
During this period, the prosecutorial staffs continued interrogations of the Nazi defendants, including an interrogation of defendant Robert Ley on October 6, 1945, who took his own life on October 25. The defendants also began choosing their counsels for the trial.
At the same time, Justice Jackson began to reorganize his staff, as the evidence gathering stage was coming to a close and the presentation and argument stage was beginning. It was a reorganization that caused some hostility among his staff, as the distribution of new responsibilities and opportunities for participation in the trial could not be done without some controversy. Jackson left much of the reorganization task to Colonel Storey.
Finally, the Indictment seemed ready to present to the Tribunal and to the defendants. The Indictment was originally set to be served on October 15, but Nikitchenko informed the other judges that the Russian delegation believed the number of murders committed by the Nazis in the Soviet Union had been understated, and the Indictment would need to be adjusted to reflect the change. The Indictment was delayed three days to October 18, with a modification blaming the Katyn Forest massacre of 11,000 Polish soldiers on the Nazis.
The Allies conducted a dress rehearsal for the trial on November 5 at the Palace of Justice, the purpose of which was to test the operation of the translation system.
It was during this period of November that the prosecution had to determine the status of defendant Rudolf Hess. Hess claimed to suffer from amnesia, and seemed to exhibit genuine symptoms of mental deterioration. The prosecution was skeptical of his claims, deciding to put his memory to the test on November 8. They showed Hess film reels of himself and Hitler at Nuremberg in 1934, which seemed to have an effect on him, but in questioning afterwards, he refused to admit that he remembered being there.
Defendant Julius Streicher was at the same time being evaluated by psychiatrists. Although the extent of his anti-Semitism led his attorney to conclude he had a “diseased mind,” in the opinion of the examining physicians, Streicher was not insane.
As the opening day of the trial quickly approached, the American and Russian representatives faced off over the issue of Russian cooperativeness. While the Americans found both the British and French contingents helpful and cooperative, they believed that the Russians were not shouldering their share of the burden in the midst of the feverish preparations for the trial. Having furnished no documents until just before the trial opened, and generally lacking adequate personnel and providing little assistance, the Russians were a serious impediment to the progress of the trial preparations. It was only through Jackson’s forceful attitude against Russian dilatory tactics that the Soviets relented.
During this time, the debate between General Donovan and Justice Jackson came to a climax. Jackson wanted the trial to be based on documents, while Donovan believed enemy witnesses were necessary for a successful trial. Donovan, who was one of Jackson’s chief staff members, would not relent, leaving Nuremberg by the end of the month, only a few days into the trial.
Despite these setbacks, the trial would begin at 10:00AM Tuesday, November 20.
On November 20, at 10am exactly, Justice Geoffrey Lawrence convened the International Military Tribunal with a rap from his gavel, given to his as a gift from Justice Francis Biddle. The prosecutors took turns reading the indictment against the Nazis.
The court heard the pleas from the defendants on the next day, November 21. Each one of them pled not guilty. After the pleas, Jackson stepped up to the lectern to deliver his opening statement. The speech, which lasted for the better part of a day, began:
“May it please your honors, the privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility.
“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.
“That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason.”
Jackson's Opening Address at Nuremberg.
Jackson’s address was instantly recognized as a masterpiece of twentieth century legal writing. Portions of the speech made the cover of The New York Times and The Washington Post.
But Jackson’s was not the only address heard that day, as both Hartley Shawcross and General Rudenko gave their openings as well.
After the excitement of the indictments and opening statements, the trial slowed in pace as the Americans began to admit enormous volumes of documentary evidence against the Nazis. But on November 29, the prosecution dropped a bomb with the showing of a documentary film titled “Nazi Concentration Camps.” This film, created from motion pictures taken by Allied forces liberating concentration camps and from Nazi films discovered by the OSS, showed for the first time the horrible crimes perpetrated by the Nazis. The effect on the viewers was immediately apparent. Justice Lawrence left without adjourning and Hans Frank was left unable to move.
On December 11, another film was shown to the court. This time, the film was to reveal the conspiracy of Nazism, making the charge tangible to the judges and public alike. It was called “The Nazi Plan,” drawing heavily from Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film “Triumph of the Will.” “The Nazi Plan,” also featured footage of a Nazi trial before the German People’s Court, a kangaroo court proceeding that caused even Hermann Goering to feel ashamed.
After the films, the prosecution began the case against slave labor, pitting prosecutor Thomas Dodd against Fritz Sauckel, the man responsible for providing Nazi Germany with its slave labor force.
December 18 marked the beginning of the prosecution’s case against the seven Nazi organizations with the attempt to prove them criminal. The Nazi party leaders, the Reich cabinet, the SS, the Gestapo, the SD, the SA, and the German High Command were all indicted as criminal.
The IMT took a recess from late December through early January, despite protests from Justice Jackson. On Christmas Eve, Jackson broadcast a speech to from Nuremberg. Lasting only about five minutes, the speech was short by Jackson’s standards, but it lacked none of the usual quality. Jackson reiterated the importance of the work being done at Nuremberg, and emphasized the philosophy, exemplified by the Christian example of Jesus, that might does not make right.
Jackson's Christmas Eve address.
During the first week of January, 1946, after returning from a two week recess, the prosecution continued its cases against the six Nazi organizations. On January 3, Otto Ohlendorf testified that his einsatzgrupp, a group of SS troopers, slaughtered 90,000 people. The SS einstatzgruppen were empowered by Himmler to conduct mass executions in occupied countries, both shooting and gassing their victims. Ohlendorf’s testimony incriminated Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was being tried in absentia as he recovered from a brain hemorrhage.
The prosecution presented evidence during the first weeks of January regarding the persecution of the Roman Catholic Church by the Nazi regime, for which they largely blamed Martin Bormann, the defendant being tried in absentia and missing since the end of the war. During this period the prosecution also presented its case against the German High Command. Prosecutor Telford Taylor charged Wilhelm Keitel, former chief of the high command, with ordering mass reprisals in occupied territory in the east.
On January 14, Jackson revealed that he would return to the Supreme Court, and vowed on January 16 that he would not participate in any future war crimes trials because of his duties on the Supreme Court. President Truman issued an order the following day, giving Jackson the power to designate a deputy chief of counsel to proceed with additional war crimes prosecutions.
On January 28, Marie Claude Vaillant-Couturier testified before the IMT about the atrocities she witnessed at Auschwitz concentration camp as a prisoner there. She watched trains arriving at Auschwitz station from her cell block, and saw masses of women led to their deaths in gas chambers or to Nazi doctors for experiments. “One night,” she testified, “we were awakened by horrible cries. The next morning we learned from men working in the gas chamber that they had run out of gas and had hurled children alive into the furnaces.”
Participants at Nuremberg continued to question the sanity of defendant Rudolf Hess during January. After Hess fired his attorney and requested to represent himself, the court appointed Dr. Otto Stahmer as his attorney, who also represented defendant Hermann Goering.
As January came to a close, Robert H. Jackson expressed his concern to America via radio that the German industrialists would never be tried for their crimes under the Nazi regime. Although the United States advocated for the prosecution of the Krupps and the I.G. Farben trust, the other Allied powers hesitated.
The first week of February 1946 was marked by rumors that the Nazi underground would attempt to free the Nazi defendants held in the Nuremberg prison. It was reported in newspapers that machine guns were being mounted inside the courthouse and the prison, and that heavy tanks would be placed in strategic positions in the vicinity of the jail. These reports were somewhat exaggerated, but the Americans were taking no chances. Despite the alerts, the prosecution continued its cases against the Nazi defendants.
On February 8, Soviet prosecutor General Roman A. Rudenko revealed the extent of German destruction and atrocities in Russia. He claimed that the Germans destroyed over 1500 towns and 70,000 villages in the Soviet Union, leaving 25,000,000 homeless.
February 13 was Jackson’s birthday, and he and his staff celebrated accordingly. There was cake and presents, and signal corps photographer Ray D’Addario was on-hand to record the happy day. The following day, February 14, could not have been less happy for the Nazi defendants, as they heard that General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese “Tiger of Malaya,” had just been executed for war crimes. That same day, the Russian prosecution accused the Germans of killing 15,000 Polish POWs in a forest near Smolensk, the infamous Katyn massacre. The Katyn issue made the other prosecution teams very uncomfortable because of the shaky nature of the charge. There was strong evidence that the Russians themselves were responsible for the killings.
Embarrassed by his country’s insistence on blaming the Katyn massacre on Germany, Rudenko set out during the rest of February to prove to the other Allies that Russia had suffered the most from the Nazis. Beginning on February 18, he presented six days of eyewitness and survivor testimony. He started by showing a film entitled “Documentary Evidence of the German Fascist Invaders.” On par with the brutality of the “Nazi Concentration Camps” film shown in November, the Russian film revealed the unimaginable atrocities committed by Nazis in Russia, including the indiscriminate killings of Soviet POWs and civilians. The film also took its viewers inside Auschwitz concentration camp, of which the court had previously only heard testimony.
By the end of February, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Russia had suffered the most during World War II at the hands of the Nazis. The judges, usually strict on time and relevance, allowed Rudenko’s witnesses to tell all. It was an eye-opening period for the Americans especially, who having been spared war on their own continent, imagined what it would have been like if the Nazis had invaded their own country.
March 1946 marked perhaps the most exciting month of the trial since the opening statements in November 1945. The Nazi defendants were slated to begin their defense cases. The first case was Hermann Goering’s. Luftwaffe General Karl B. Bodenschatz and Field Marshal Erhard Milch testified on Goering’s behalf in advance of Goering’s own direct examination.
On March 13, Georing took the stand under the examination of his attorney Otto Stahmer. He spoke for over two hours completely unrestrained by Judge Lawrence which left the prosecution chagrined. At the conclusion of his direct examination on March 15, Goering had spoken without interruption for nearly three court days. The much-anticipated cross-examination of Goering began on March 18 as Robert H. Jackson returned to the podium.
For three days, Jackson questioned Goering, extracting damning admissions from Goering on his participation in planning the Holocaust. Jackson’s cross-examination was not without its flaws, but it accomplished its essential mission, exposing Goering as an admitted architect of the crimes for which he was accused. Jackson’s cross was followed by David Maxwell-Fyfe. Benefiting in part from Jackson’s difficulties, Maxwell-Fyfe dominated Goering. Rudenko and French prosecutor Champetier de Ribes completed the prosecution’s cross-examination of Goering on March 22.
Next to present his case was supposed to be Rudolf Hess on March 25, but Hess decided not to testify on his own behalf because of concerns over the quality of his memory. The witness stand was occupied the following day by witness called by Joachim von Ribbentrop’s lawyer Martin Horn. Largely ineffectual in aiding Ribbentrop’s case, these witnesses were not even cross-examined by the prosecution. Ribbentrop took the stand on April 1 under the damaging questioning of Harlan Amen and David Maxwell-Fyfe.
As Ribbentrop’s defense came to a close in the first days of April, Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel prepared to fight for his life. Starting on April 3, Keitel began an attempt to prove he was under the complete domination of Adolf Hitler when he ordered captured Allied soldiers shot, among other war crimes. Keitel pleaded with the court to understand that he could not disobey an order from Hitler. Only on April 6, under fiery questioning from Soviet prosecutor Roman Rudenko, did Keitel finally accept personal responsibility for the indiscriminate killing of Soviet men, women and children on the eastern front.
Next to take the stand was Ernst Kaltenbrunner, chief of the Gestapo at the end of the war. On April 11, Kaltenbrunner claimed ignorance of Gestapo crimes initiated by his predecessor, Reinhardt Heydrich, despite having initially accepting blame for those crimes. With John Harlan Amen leading the cross-examination of Kaltenbrunner, the prosecution revealed Katlenbrunner to be responsible for many war crimes and crimes against Jewish people in eastern territories.
Following Kaltenbrunner was Alfred Rosenberg on April 16, who largely blamed Martin Bormann, the Nazi tried in absentia at Nuremberg, for the persecution of Jews and the Holocaust. Rosenberg did acknowledge he was aware of and even suggested harsh measures in the eastern territories, leading to the developments of slave labor and concentration camps. Kaltenbrunner’s attorney called Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, to the stand in hopes that he could exonerate Kaltenbrunner. Hoess’ testimony, which included an admission of overseeing the deaths of two and one half million people at Auschwitz, was some of the most damaging of the entire trial, not only for Kaltenbrunner, but for all of the defendants associated with concentration camps.
On April 18, Hans Frank, gauleiter of Poland, began his defense. Famously having found religion while incarcerated at Nuremberg, it seemed that Frank had come to grips with both his country’s and his personal responsibility for the atrocities of World War II. On that day he famously uttered, “A thousand years will pass and still Germany’s guilt will not have been erased.” He would later recant his and his country’s guilt, perhaps partly from the pressure of his fellow defendants.
Wilhelm Frick’s defense was next, but Frick’s lawyer did not call him to the stand on April 24, but instead called Hans Gisevius, who under the masterful cross-examination of Robert H. Jackson, managed to incriminate Goering, Kaltenbrunner and Keitel, without exonerating Frick. As with the case of Rudolf Hoess as a witness for Kaltenbrunner’s defense, the prosecution could not have picked a better witness themselves.
The month of April finished with the defense of Julius Streicher, publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer, and Hjalmar Schacht, financial genius of the Nazi regime and financier of German rearmament. On April 26 and 29, Streicher was torn apart by prosecutors, largely because of his unrelenting and fanatical anti-Semitism. Despite blaming Hitler with the decision to kill all European Jews, Streicher was incriminated for helping to form and carry out the plan for the killings.
Schacht took the stand on April 30, offering Robert H. Jackson another difficult cross-examination. Schacht had a brilliant mind and a strong defense, as he had been interned in a concentration camp by the Nazi regime.
Next on the stand was Walther Funk, who fell to Thomas Dodd’s prosecutorial prowess. As former president of the Reichsbank, Funk had accepted SS deposits of valuables looted from concentration camp victims, including gold teeth.
Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz began his defense on May 8. Doenitz’s attorney Otto Kranzbuehler had requested an affidavit from U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz to show that submarines refusing to rescue survivors was common practice by navies other than just Germany’s. But before they received the affidavit, the prosecution had already established that Doenitz was a strong anti-Semite with knowledge of the concentration camps and loyal to Hitler, even to the extent that he was named Hitler’s successor. Nimitz’s affidavit cleared Doenitz of some of the war crimes charges, but he was still guilty of crimes against Jewish people.
Doenitz’s fellow naval commander, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder presented his defense next. The prosecution alleged that Raeder had violated the Treaty of Versailles by restoring the German navy and was a party to Hitler’s plans for aggressive war, especially with regard to Norway. Nimitz’s affidavit helped Raeder’s case as it did Doenitz’s.
Leader of the Hitler Youth, Baldur von Schirach followed Raeder on May 23, accepting personal responsibility, like Keitel and Frank, for his part in the crimes of the Nazi regime. Last to take the stand in May was Fritz Sauckel, responsible for the slave labor program of Nazi Germany.
General Alfred Jodl began on June 3 to defend himself as the nagging conscience of Hitler. Jodl indicated that, unlike Keitel, he was not afraid to speak his mind to Hitler, including protesting the Malmedy massacre during the Battle of the Bulge. But under the strong cross-examination by British prosecutor Geoffrey Dorling Roberts, Jodl was forced to admit, that despite his overtures to the contrary, he passed along criminally violent and repressive orders to German troops in the East, as well as endorsed Hitler’s circumvention of the Geneva Convention.
Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the man responsible for handing Austria over to Germany and the brutalization of Holland, limped to the stand on June 10. Presenting little defense of his actions, Seyss-Inquart largely took it as a foregone conclusion that he would be hanged. At the other extreme, Fritz von Papen, chancellor of Germany in 1932 who stepped down and advised President von Hindenburg to replace him with Hitler, intended to put up his best defense beginning on June 14. He had secured one of the best defense lawyers of the trial, who also happened to be his son. Young von Papen presented his father as a leader in forging peace plans between Germany and other countries, and as a man who helped plot an assassination attempt of Hitler, and who certainly held no power during the tyranny of the Nazi regime.
Another highly anticipated moment of the trial came on June 21 when Albert Speer began his defense. Speer’s case was intimately tied to Sauckel’s, in that Speer’s industries utilized Sauckel’s slaves. Speer, who had become the arch-nemesis of Goering in the Nuremberg prison, accepted personal responsibility for his actions, yet under Justice Jackson’s cross-examination Speer came out looking more like a hero of the new Germany than a Nazi criminal. Speer benefited from his contrite and dignified demeanor, which allowed prosecutors and judges alike to set him apart in their own minds from Saukel, even though Speer’s actions constituted the other half of the guilt of the slave labor program.
Konstantin von Neurath and Hans Fritzsche were the last two defendants to present their defenses. Von Neurath was von Ribbentrop’s predecessor as foreign minister, while Germany was “breaking only one treaty at a time,” in the words of British prosecutor David Maxwell-Fyfe. The oldest defendant, von Neurath was exhibiting signs of senility and did not put up much of a defense. As the second of only two defendants provided by the Russians, Hans Fritzsche’s case was very important to the Russian delegation. However, prosecutors were not able to find adequate evidence to prove that Fritzsche’s radio propaganda had the intention to incite war crimes. If there was one defendant who would be acquitted, it most certainly would be Hans Fritzsche.
Beginning on July 4, the defense attorneys began their summations, one day for each defendant. On July 6, the summations were interrupted for the prosecution of Martin Bormann, still missing, by Thomas F. Lambert, Jr. Lambert submitted indefensible documentation of Bormann’s crimes, so Bormann’s appointed lawyer could only declare him dead instead of presenting a defense. The summations resumed, ending finally on July 25.
The next day, July 26, the prosecution offered its summations. Jackson spoke first, famously labeling the Nazis with poetic epithets, and quoting Shakespeare’s Richard III. He was followed by Hartley Shawcross, Auguste Champetier and Roman Rudenko.
Jackson turned the prosecution of the Nazi organization in August to his ace prosecutor Thomas Dodd. The defense of the Nazi organizations filled the entire month of August. The IMT took ninety affidavits from a pool of 313,000 original applications for testimony. Hermann Goering returned to the witness stand on August 20 and was cross-examined by Maxwell-Fyfe on the subject of high altitude experiments conducted on unwilling Jewish prisoners. Final testimony on the Nazi organization was heard on August 30.
On the last day of the month, August 31, the defendants gave their final statements before the IMT.
The judges spent the entire month of September deliberating the fates of the 22 defendants and the Nazi organizations. On the last day of the month, September 30, they revealed their judgments on the organizations. The Nazi party leadership, the SS, the Gestapo and the SD were found guilty as criminal organizations, while the SA, the Reich cabinet and the High Command were acquitted. For members of the organizations found criminal, it would be established fact in all subsequent trials that they were members of a criminal organization, and they could be indicted and punished because of its criminal status.
After 315 days, the final day of the trial had come. On October 1, 1946, the defendants heard first their verdict of guilt or innocence, followed later by their sentence. Of the 22 defendants, including Martin Bormann tried in absentia, 19 were found guilty of one or more counts. Von Papen, Schacht and Fritzsche were acquitted. That afternoon, Goering, von Ribbentrop, Keitel, Rosenberg, Kaltenbrunner, Frank, Frick, Streicher, Sauckel, Seyss-Inquart, Jodl and Bormann were sentenced to death by hanging. Hess, Raeder, and Funk were sentenced to life in prison, while Speer and von Schirach received sentences of 20 years, von Neurath, 15 years, and Doenitz, 10 years. Out of all the judgments, Robert H. Jackson was most disappointed by Schacht’s acquittal. In Jackson’s estimation, Schacht and other financiers like him held the lion’s share of responsibility for Germany’s economic and military mobilization.
After an unsuccessful appeals process, there were only the executions left to be carried out. The exact date was kept a secret from the condemned men, but on the evening of October 15, just hours before he was to be the first man hanged, Hermann Goering ingested cyanide in his cell, killing himself. The executions, however, were not delayed because of Goering’s suicide, and beginning at 1:11am on October 16, the condemned Germans were hanged. Von Ribbentrop was the first, finally ending with Seyss-Inquart at 2:45am.